Walking into my favorite coffee shop in DC, the one a few blocks away from Dupont Circle Metro Station. Per usual I order the coffee of the day and take a seat(maybe the barista will add a little design in the coffee maybe not). I unzip my bag and pull out my laptop and  notes to begin a lofty work session. Thus, the dilemma begins, how can I work in silence? What do I listen to; Qur’an or the 50 Cent pandora station? There seems to be a deep dilemma going on within me. Should I feel guilty for not listening to Quran or a lecture every time I plug my headphones into my laptop? But, oddly enough I know that I am not alone in this feeling.

About a year ago I was talking to a friend who described me as a “Cosmopolitan Muslim”. She told me if I had my own show it should be called “Muslim and The City”. A witty yet halal spin off of “Sex and the City”.  Usually when we see this word cosmopolitan we think of someone always on the latest fashion trends.  This person is always at the right place at the right time, on purpose. So, a cosmopolitan Muslims should have a neatly trimmed sunnah beard. Or a brightly colored hijab that goes against traditional hues of black. This is not to be mistaken for simply being Westernized, I mean, even ISIS members drive around in Ford trucks and wear Nikes. As my favorite academic Sherman Abdallah Jackson said, “there are no non-Western people, just varying degrees of Westerness.

How does one go about being a Muslim in a city, especially in the West? Paris banned street prayers and Moscow banned Eid sacrificing. Yet, any form of pornogrophy is avaibale for anyone to download at anytime of day, seems backwards?  But, I digress because I live in Washington DC where the phenomenon of street prayer never reached us. And the slaughtering of goats for Eid can be done just a few miles outside of the city.   

However, when we try and fit our Muslim persona into a nice and neat package which can be acceptable for the West, there is a problem. For me, this problem occurs when I am invited to a happy hour with my co-workers and have to decline a drink. Usually the follow up question to me saying “no” is, “oh, for religious reasons?” Admittedly, the cosmopolitan label has limitations. Or my favorite is when a halal conversation turns haram and I’m trying to play it cool, although I am deeply disturbed by the conversation on the casual way men discuss degrading the bodies of women.

It doesn’t help that many of our scholars are out of touch with the youth on many of these issues. Take the famous video of Mufti Menk where he is discussing music. What strikes me as odd was he mentioned Madonna when discussing popular music. Maybe he is showing his age but, it does show he is a bit unaware of certain aspects of youth culture. I almost went the scholar route. But, something about studying history was more appealing to me. Deep down I always wanted to study what people believe not tell people how to believe.

Anyway, our youth(which includes me for at least 3 more years, inshallah) are conflicted. Like many generations before who had to juggle the dunya and the deen. Some say juggling isn’t an option, drop the dunya and keep the deen. When I hear this I can’t help but, cringe because nothing is that easy. The fact is we do live in a society where the bombardment of images is nonstop.

And not only that, we have to sift through these images and pick the ones that we are comfortable with while being compatible with Islam.

Is that boyfriend or girlfriend you have compatible with Islam? You know that boyfriend or girlfriend you have to hide from your parents because the person is of a different sect of Islam, religion or wait for it…race? How many marriages never got the chance to start due to ignorance, once again I digress. Let us focus on just one thing, ourselves. Society has duped us into believing spending time alone is inherently anti-social. We look for distractions that take us out of our own mind thus we are never truly alone. We even take our phones in the bathroom(I can’t be the only one)! Go for a nature walk, start a journal, read a book. Become comfortable with yourself. As my mentor told me,

“Nobody knows your problems better than you. You sleep with them, eat with them, and wake up with them. Just take the time to acknowledge them”.  

I would be doing my historical education a disservice if I did not mention that, city life has always been feared in some way by society. The founding of America was meant to ,in fact, be in opposition of the lavish yet crowded European cities such as London and Paris. America, especially Washington D.C. was seen as a refuge away from the city life. Philadelphia was abandoned as the capital for many reason one being it was too much of a city. Interestingly, Philadelphia was the birthplace of the first shopping center in America which housed a museum on the upper floor.  

City life was seen as aristocratic,  anti-democratic, and most interestingly sinful. In the city there were too many distractions for one to focus on God. If George Washington could see the city that holds his name, I don’t know if those wooden teeth of his would take the grinding of his jaws from anger! So as I walk to the masjid through Downtown D.C and I pass bars, fortune tellers, and BBQ restaurants called “Pork Barrel BBQ”(seriously can a name be more specific?), I feel at ease. This is city life and one has to deal with it, to be perfectly blunt. Either we can learn to live together or…those cave dwelling days are very much in our future.

Published by Amir Webb